Movie Review: 'The Aviator'

by Rich Brooks

8 February 2005

Some of you may have noticed that I haven't written a review of a new movie for several months, and for good reason. There simply hasn't been anything showing in our local cinema worth buying a ticket for; hell, nothing I'd watch even if I were given a free pass. Until now, that is, when "Aviator" has finally hit the local screen.

Howard Hughes was a fascinating but enigmatic character. The billionaire movie maker and aviation pioneer had affairs with some of the most glamorous stars of Hollywood's "golden age" and was generally reputed to be a "playboy," yet he died in 1976 as an unkempt recluse in a Las Vegas hotel penthouse. Although he inherited his wealth from his father's Hughes Tool Company in Houston, he was anything but the "idle rich" playboy stereotype; he was hard working and hard driven and often took business risks considered foolish by more conventional minds. As a result, Hughes was at one time generally considered to be the richest man in the world.

When I first heard that Leonardo DiCaprio was playing the part of Hughes, I was puzzled and a bit skeptical. I couldn't picture any physical resemblance and have always considered DiCaprio a lightweight actor. However, much to my surprise, he turned in the best performance of his career and was thoroughly convincing in the part. I don't know how true-to-life his portrayal is, however, because, except for a few still photos, I've never seen or heard the real Hughes and have no basis for comparison; I suspect most moviegoers are in the same boat.

The supporting cast is equally good, particularly Cate Blanchette as Katherine Hepburn. She manages to capture Hepburn's distinctive voice and mannerisms. There is also a significant role given to Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardiner and the cameo appearance of Gwen Stefani as twenties blonde bombshell Jean Harlow. All of these actresses add spice and historical interest to the movie.

We learn right from the beginning of the film that Hughes was obsessed with germs, an obsession we are told that was planted in his head by his mother at an early age. This obsessive-compulsive behavior becomes more noticeable as the movie progresses. Apparently his mental illness began much earlier than I had previously believed, because even though he was able to still function in his business dealings and as a pilot, he was beginning to behave abnormally by 1947 if we are to believe this movie. However, the film mercifully ends here, and we are spared the gruesome spectacle of his long, slow deterioration.

"The Aviator" captures the feel of Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s. It also features some exciting aviation scenes, including one spectacular crash which Hughes almost unbelievably survived. This mixture of special effects and storytelling makes for a compelling film and you forget that it is almost three hours long. I didn't glance at my watch a single time, and that for me is a good measure of how much I like any movie. The sometimes controversial but often acclaimed Martin Scorsese directed, and this is definitely one of his better efforts.

Unfortunately, the Miramax Weinstein brothers produced the film, but there is no obvious jewish agenda at work here. The only obvious jew in the movie is the brief appearance of MGM boss Louis B. Mayer, and it is obvious there is no love lost between him and Hughes. Hughes, in fact, is one of the few gentiles ever to succeed in the motion picture business. Since negroes seldom inhabited Hughes's world during the twenties, thirties, and forties, it is an all-White picture as well.

"The Aviator," in a word, is the best movie I have seen in the past year, and I recommend it highly.


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